Jazz & Blues

Albums belatedly give voice to Manfred Mann's Paul Jones

Blues harmonica player and DJ whose career began in the '60s had to wait until 2009 to record a solo album, allowing him to sing the songs he always wanted to. Now a follow-up has been released

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 May, 2015, 11:10pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 May, 2015, 11:10pm

Blues harmonica player, singer, songwriter and radio presenter Paul Jones has recorded prolifically in a musical career that has spanned more than half a century. However, it is only in the past six years that he has been able to record the music he wants to as a solo artist.

Jones' career as a performing blues musician began with a student band he formed in the early 1960s at Oxford University. A little later, he formed a duo with future Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones, and guested with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. He claims he doesn't regret turning down Brian Jones' offer for the job that ultimately went to Mick Jagger, but did want a taste of that success - and so he said yes when offered a gig with a group called the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, who then became Manfred Mann.

As the original name suggests, the band started out playing blues but, once signed to a recording contract, shifted their focus first towards American pop songs, and then on to Bob Dylan covers. But Jones wanted to perform blues and soul music, so he left the group, embarking on a solo career - only to discover that his management and record company were no more keen on following his musical instincts than his former bandmates had been.

Frustrated with the songs he was asked to record, he moved into an acting career - with some success in the West End and on Broadway although less in cinema - but still heard the call of the blues. In 1979, he suggested to ex-Manfred Mann bandmate Tom McGuinness that they look at forming a group with the intention of playing casually, just one or two nights a week.

The Blues Band swiftly became a full-time job and as a performer Jones has not looked back since. In 1991, he and McGuinness also joined a group of Manfred Mann alumni calling themselves The Manfreds to recreate the group's 1960s hits. When not appearing with either of those units, he also performs regularly in a duo with Blues Band slide guitarist Dave Kelly.

Jones also developed a parallel career as a DJ. Alexis Korner's death in 1984 created a vacancy at the BBC for an articulate radio presenter with a deep knowledge of the blues and in 1985 he accepted an invitation to make some programmes for the broadcaster. In 1986 he was offered a regular Radio 2 spot, which continues to this day, and The Paul Jones Show can be heard overseas on the BBC's iPlayer internet service.

Despite a busy schedule as a session harmonica player and the success of the Blues Band - which perform Jones' songs among others, and have now recorded about 20 albums, not counting repackages - Jones' career as a solo singer largely stalled in 1972 with the little-known Crucifix in a Horseshoe album.

Then in 2009, after the sudden cancellation of Manfred's US tour, he was offered the opportunity to go to Los Angeles and record with producer Carla Olson and a strong group of American rock and blues musicians. The result was the aptly titled Starting All Over Again, which reflected his blues, soul and gospel influences.

Eric Clapton played guest guitar on two songs and it included a bonus track called Big Blue Diamonds, recorded as a duet with Percy Sledge - who died last month - originally included on Sledge's 2004 album Shining Through the Rain.

Jones' follow-up to the album, Suddenly I Like It, has just been released, and it features the same producer and many of the same musicians.

The iTunes version includes the two tracks from the previous album on which Clapton played, but otherwise the guest star roles this time go to guitarist Joe Bonamassa, whose music Jones, now 73, has championed on his radio show, and fellow BBC presenter Jools Holland, who contributes Hammond B3 to one track (his own Remember Me) and piano to two others.

Meanwhile, the jazz gig of the week comes on Thursday at Backstage Live, featuring guitarist Teriver Cheung and Friends. Hong Kong-born but New York-based Cheung tours extensively. This is a chance to catch him on home turf.

Also, the final Ned Kelly's Big Band session until October starts at 6.30pm tonight and will be raising money for the Nepal Umbrella Foundation.

Take Three

Three noteworthy albums featuring the blues harmonica playing of Paul Jones.

The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (1964, HMV): the debut Manfred Mann album shows the jazz and blues influences.

What's Shakin' (1966, Elektra): a various-artists blues sampler that contains the only recordings released by the short-lived studio-only "supergroup" Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse.

Best of the Blues Band (2011, Repertoire): a strong double-CD introduction to Jones' main performing gig, including many of the staples of their repertoire, among them the 1980 version of Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm.